Film Review: “Hillbilly Elegy” (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We all encounter bumpy roads throughout our life. We manage to slow down on highways or go too slow in a small road to avoid collision with our fears, failures and inability, sometimes, to think rationally. One way or another, we land on our feet whatever it may result in. Because that’s what is the true meaning of family – no matter what, we stick with each other.

JD Vance (based on the book by JD Vance) is a young boy from Jackson, Kentucky. He lives in a very dysfunctional family; his Mother (Amy Adams) can’t build a permanent relationship due to her personality (mostly). Working as a nurse at the local hospital, she becomes addicted to drugs, which makes her potentially violent to others. His grandma (Glenn Close) seems like the only one who can control the temper of her daughter. All these are navigated through three generations as we get to know an already grown-up JD, who’s a Yale University student, as he returns back to his ” Appalachian” clan to take care of his mother.

JD is still little when we first meet him. His mother is already unhinged and struggles as she tries to provide for her two children. It seems natural for their family to stay the way they are without a major improvement if not for Mawmaw, JD’s grandma, who won’t take a beat from anyone, including from her own daughter. With her iron nature and steady hands, after realizing that JD may lose an opportunity to become somebody one day, she takes him under her wings. As the years go by, JD, as a grown-up man and a student of Yale Law School, in the midst of getting the final interview call for a dream job, receives a phone call from his sister about his mother overdosing and needing care now more than ever.

Screenwriter of this moving piece with the fancy title, “Hillbilly Elegy”, Vanessa Taylor tackles a very complex and not an easy story to write. Sadly, many may turn away from it, not because of the lack of the substance but due to the complexity of the story which the vast majority may find either boring or uneventful. The truth is, that’s not the case with the film, not by a long shot. Ron Howard, one of the most decorated directors of our lifetime, invites two heavyweights of Hollywood, the only and incomparable Glenn Close and the versatile Amy Adams, to clash off for the masterclass performance that cannot be missed. Gabriel Basso as a grown-up JD delivers a solid performance, while, as mentioned earlier, it’s the Close-Adams standoff that each movie lover will appreciate.

As for the concept of the film, what it teaches us is that it does not matter where we all come from. There is a ladder that is capable of taking us all up there towards personal achievement. We just need one little push to realize that we have that power and the capacity to not give up. We can and must get an education if we want to get a better job and help our loved ones live a better life. One line delivered by JD to his mother says it all, “Mom, I must go because I can’t save you from here,” which is the reality of any era. Success comes to those who realize the real price to be paid for it. JD’s price is to be away from his family as the only way to keep it together, sadly, not always works for other struggling families.

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